By Dr. Tom Evans
When I travel to a new country I love to immerse myself in the culture by visiting the local markets. On my first ever ASAP mission trip to Southeast Asia, I found myself in Muak Lek, Thailand. At a busy intersection, there was a crowded market with dozens of booths. Over half of the evening market was dedicated to selling vegetables, fruit, and meats of all varieties.
I passed a vendor selling deep-fried grasshoppers and cockroaches. Another offered live crickets. Not the appetizing treat that I was looking for! As I continued to stroll through the market, the sights and sounds mingled together to produce a sensory overload. On my way out, I heard about a refreshing stand selling fresh mushrooms—and the Mushroom Pastor.
The Mushroom Pastor, normally known as Pastor Ruangwit, is sponsored by ASAP Ministries. He started his church in a community of about 50,000 people near a popular Buddhist temple cave. The church is also in the shadow of the Seventh-day Adventist Southeast Asian educational institution called Asia Pacific International University. Almost none of the community’s Thai Buddhists had joined the large university church. He decided they needed an option closer to home.
How did Pastor Ruangwit become known as the Mushroom Pastor? He deliberately began to grow mushrooms to make connections with the Buddhists at the market. The mushroom business has been good. Every market day, they make around $90 USD. However, the goal is not the money, but the opportunity to forge relationships with non-Christians.
Is it working? On Sabbath morning, I joined the worshippers at the church plant location, just a couple hundred meters beyond the now desolate market. Taking my shoes off to enter the building reminded me that I’m experiencing a culture distinctly different from my own. The ground level of the building is a small shop, with a kitchen in the back. I noticed a couple of large refrigerators filled with bags of mushrooms, ready for the next market day. The shop also offers freshly made bread and granola. However, all business had stopped in honor of the Sabbath.
We walked up the stairs of the townhouse to a room beautifully made into a church worship room. I met Pastor Ruangwit’s wife and three children who live on the third floor. I went back outside to watch attendees begin to arrive, many on mopeds. I noticed all the surrounding businesses were open. However, that morning, the busiest “business” of them all was not attracting customers. Instead, it was attracting people who are longing to know more about Jesus.
Church began with 30 or more joyful worshippers. I sat there feeling inadequate, trying to contextualize my sermon to a congregation with numerous individuals who have not yet been baptized and who are coming from a Buddhist background.
The sermon was followed by a wonderful Thai luncheon with lots of delicious mushrooms. My question was still hanging: what was the impact of the Mushroom Pastor?
Soon Pastor Ruangwit introduced me to a lady who is a vendor in the market. I said, “I was at the market just yesterday and saw some grasshoppers.” I couldn’t help but add, “Do you enjoy those?” She smiled and nodded her head. The pastor has been building a friendship with her as he sells his mushrooms near her booth. This was her third Sabbath to attend church. Mushroom evangelism was definitely working. I learned Pastor Ruangwit has just conducted a baptism of four individuals. A number of others are in the process of preparing for baptism.
Sabbath afternoon, we drove to see the mushroom farm. As Pastor Ruangwit gave me a brief tour, I was overcome by the passion for souls that he expressed. It was clear that mushrooms were simply a means of more effectively sharing the gospel. Rarely in my travels throughout North America and the world have I encountered someone so deeply in touch with the heart of God for lost people. The Mushroom Pastor lit up as he shared story after story of lives transformed by the gospel.
I am thankful God gave ASAP the vision to partner with such an innovative church planting project as Muak Lek. I am thankful for donors who may not have had the opportunity to travel and visit an ASAP church plant, but who faithfully give of their resources to reach people on the other side of the world. You are making a tremendous difference! As a result of the generosity of ASAP donors, I’m sure we will meet many people in heaven…who enjoy eating mushrooms.